Longtime Brooklawn manager Joseph Barth dies at 92

Joseph "Pop" Barth founded Brooklawn's American Legion baseball team in 1952 and managed it for 58 years, winning titles at the state, regional, and national levels.
Joseph "Pop" Barth founded Brooklawn's American Legion baseball team in 1952 and managed it for 58 years, winning titles at the state, regional, and national levels. (File)

Longtime Brooklawn manager Joseph Barth dies at 92

Posted: March 04, 2014

Joseph "Pop" Barth, 92, of Brooklawn, a South Jersey baseball legend, died Saturday night at home. He had been suffering from a variety of physical ailments in recent years, according to his son, Rutgers-Camden baseball coach Dennis Barth.

Mr. Barth died about six weeks after the death of his wife, Helen, who was 91. They were married for 66 years and were the parents of five children.

Mr. Barth lost count of how many baseball games he coached and he was a numbers guy - an Ivy League-trained accountant. "I know it's been a lot," he said in 2008, when he still was the field manager for the Brooklawn American Legion baseball team that he founded in 1952.

Mr. Barth probably coached more games than anyone in any sport in South Jersey history. He was Brooklawn's field manager for 58 years, and the team probably played an average of 80 games a year, counting fall competition.

"I wish I had an adjective to describe his commitment," said Joe Hartmann, a former baseball coach and longtime administrator after whom South Jersey's most prestigious in-season tournament, the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, is named. "In South Jersey, just to have him around was a blessing."

Mr. Barth built Brooklawn into a national powerhouse with a home base on the field up the street from his house in the little Camden County community.

Brooklawn has won 27 state titles, three regional titles, and three American Legion World Series titles - the last in August.

"This one was for Pop," Brooklawn's star pitcher, Mike Shawaryn, said after the team won the latest championship.

As did generations of Brooklawn players, Shawaryn referred to Mr. Barth by his nickname. Mr. Barth was Pop to nearly everybody who was associated with the fabled program.

"Pop was more to us than just a coach," said Gloucester Catholic head coach Mike Rucci, a star catcher on the Brooklawn team that won the American Legion World Series in 2001. "He treated every one of us like his sons. We were all lucky to have played for him."

Perhaps even more than the winning, Brooklawn baseball became synonymous with commitment - players surrendering their summers for the day-in, day-out experience of high-level competition.

"He used to sit us down before the season," Bob Nanney, who played for Brooklawn in the late 1950s, said in 2011. "He'd say, 'If you have a girlfriend, get rid of her. If you have a car, get rid of it.' "

That commitment always was the open secret of Brooklawn's success. The program's play-after-play, day-after-day immersion in the sport built fundamentally sound, mentally tough teams but tended to leave little time for anything else.

Mr. Barth was a University of Pennsylvania graduate who founded his own accounting firm. He was a regular at Penn State football home games and often traveled to see the Nittany Lions in bowl games.

But baseball was his life.

He founded the Brooklawn program with a group of players from the old Camden County Park League in the early 1950s and created a nationally recognized team on a little slice of sandlot near the intersection of Browning Road and Route 130.

Mr. Barth was a demanding coach who often came across as cantankerous. He could be critical of umpires and uncompromising in his approach. But people close to Brooklawn's program said his brusque manner and seemingly hard exterior sometimes gave the wrong impression of a man whose generosity outmatched his competitiveness.

"He was the guy who every kid in that area hoped to play for," said Marc Sauer, a star pitcher for Brooklawn in the late 1990s and now a scout for the Oakland Athletics. "I was so lucky to have played for him. He taught us so much about baseball but more than that he taught us how to respect the game and how to act off the field.

"I go to a lot of games now and I see a lot of behavior that I know Coach Barth never would have allowed anybody to get away with. If more people had the luxury of playing for him, we'd have a lot better baseball players - but, more importantly, we'd had a lot better young men."

Mr. Barth is survived by his sons Joe Jr. and Dennis and daughter, Joanna Mazzola. Joe and Helen Barth were predeceased by sons John and Bobby.

A viewing will be held Thursday, March 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Friday, March 7, from 9 to 10 a.m. at Gardner Funeral Home, 126 S. Black Horse Pike, Runnemede. A Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Friday, March 7, at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, 426 Monmouth St., Gloucester.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/jerseysidesports

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